What is a White Russian?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2019
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A White Russian is a cocktail which is made with vodka, coffee liqueur, and milk or cream. The origins of the name of the beverage are presumably related to the presence of vodka, a traditionally Russian alcohol. A related drink, the Black Russian, pre-dates the White Russian, and contains similar ingredients. White Russians are often available at bars, and they are also very easy to mix at home, requiring no special tools or skills.

Conventionally, this drink is served in an old fashioned glass, a short tumbler which is designed to accommodate ice and a few cocktail ingredients. To make a White Russian, chunks of ice are dropped into the glass before vodka, coffee liqueur, and cream are poured in. When finished, the drink tends to stand in layers, with the clear vodka on the bottom and the cream floating on top. The drinker may choose to slowly stir in the cream before drinking.


Kahlúa is a popular brand of coffee liqueur which is commonly used to make White Russians. Some bartenders may use Tia Maria, another well known brand, or an entirely different liqueur, depending on personal choice and availability. Given that Kahlúa and coffee liqueurs in general tend to be very sweet, the White Russian is typically very sweet, with a rich flavor from the cream. Lighter milk is sometimes used to make the beverage less heavy, and it is also possible to use non-dairy alternatives, although some may behave strangely when mixed with alcohol.

The origins of the White Russian appear to lie in the 1960s, when the drink first started cropping up along the West Coast of the United States. Numerous variations on the drink have been developed since then. The name was probably taken from the Black Russian, a drink with vodka and coffee liqueur but no cream; the “white” is a reference to the creamy color of the finished drink. This drink should not be confused with the White Russians, an anti-Bolshevik movement which was active during the Russian Civil War.

Traditionally, the ratio in a White Russian is 1:1:1, meaning that one part of each ingredient is added. Adjustments in the ingredient levels will naturally lead to a stronger, sweeter, or creamier drink, depending on which ingredients are adjusted. White Russians are not typically garnished, and they are generally considered after dinner drinks, due to their sweetness and richness.


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Post 2

I think White Russians became way more popular after the release of the Coen brothers' movie "The Big Lebowski". The lead character, played by Jeff Bridges, drinks White Russians throughout the movie. If he isn't ordering one at a bar, he's mixing several up at his house. One of the movie's subplots actually centers around his trip to the grocery store to get more milk to make White Russians.

I wouldn't say White Russians were my absolute favorite cocktails, but they are not nearly as harsh as most straight whiskeys or tequilas can be. They can also be made at any state of intoxication, which makes it ideal for college parties, if memory serves.

Post 1

Back in my drinking days, my beverage of choice was a White Russian cocktail. My favorite bartender had his own White Russian drink recipe that included Bailey's Irish Cream along with the vodka and coffee liqueur. He added a splash of milk to keep it from being too harsh, and served it in a large glass with ice and a straw.

I'd usually drink three or four during the course of a night, but there was one time when I drank far too many. There is a surprising amount of alcohol in a White Russian, and it will sneak up on you if you are not careful. Some people might get confused by the sweetness and smoothness of the drink to notice they've reach their limit.

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